Landmine clearance can boost war-torn nations' economies

New research by LBS’s Elias Papaioannou identifies a more effective approach to de-mining

landmine clearance Mozambique

Groundbreaking research into the economic impact of landmine clearance by Elias Papaioannou, Professor of Economics at London Business School (LBS) shows that a more strategic approach to this activity would have significant benefits.

“When you remove landmines you unleash potential,” said Professor Papaioannou. “International policymakers should prioritise landmine clearance in key areas for trade networks – close to roads and railways that benefit the most from the spillover effect.” Coordination and centralisation among the numerous agencies working in this field was essential, he said. 

Alistair McAslan, Deputy Team Leader, Monitoring and Evaluation for Department for International Development (DFID)’s Global Mine Action Programme, said that the hot topic among experts in the field was value for money. “We can require contractors to demonstrate improvements in efficiency but the one thing we can’t yet measure properly is effectiveness. This research is one of the greatest steps forward I’ve seen in 15 years. It will help in prioritising projects, evaluating them and making smarter decisions in future.”

A United Nations (UN) report states: “Landmines are uniquely savage in the history of modern conventional warfare. Landmines keep poor people poor, decades after the conflict.” Celebrities such as the late Princess Diana, Prince Harry and Angelina Jolie have raised awareness of the devastating physical and emotional legacy of landmines, but this is the first time extensive research has been carried out into their economic impact.

Professor Papaoiannou spent two years analysing the effects of landmine clearance in Mozambique between 1992 and 2015 (when the country was finally declared landmine-free). The research was carried out in collaboration with Giorgio Chiovelli, Research Fellow at LBS, and Stelios Michalpoulos, Assistant Professor of Economics at Brown University. 

In 1992, after nearly three decades of war and civil war, Mozambique was the poorest country in the world. A Human Rights Watch country report stated: “Many rural areas have been reduced to a stone age condition, without trade or modern manufactured goods, education or health services.” 

There was no centralised data on development in this period so the research team painstakingly compiled statistics from NGOs including the Halo Trust and Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International), working in collaboration with the government of Mozambique’s National Institute of Demining, the UN and other stakeholders. 

They also used satellite images of light density at night to proxy development and population density. They found that, as well as having a positive local effect on development, landmine clearance can boost districts that are connected to cleared areas by road or rail because people are able to get their goods to market. 

Finally, using an algorithm, the researchers devised a simulation to see what difference a systematic approach to demining would have made to development: first clearing the main development corridors, then the major highways and other paved roads, and finally the rest of the country. The results were striking – market access would have doubled. 

“Clearance has a bigger effect where population density is higher or where there are trade hubs,” said Professor Papaioannou. “In areas of low population density – rural areas – the impact is not very strong. For many of the NGOs and international agencies this was surprising news.”

Landmines are still being laid in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other parts of the world plagued by violent conflict. They are cheap instruments of terror. “You can buy one for less than the price of a cup of coffee,” said Professor Papaioannou. “We can be sure that their use will continue.” Islamic State is reported to have unearthed and reused mines laid in Egypt during World War Two.

In April 2017 the UK’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced that Britain was pledging £100 million towards landmine clearance. An estimated 600 million people worldwide live under the threat of landmines.